ANDREW Bogut did his best to keep his intentions quiet.
The Sydney Kings’ newest signing didn’t even use his friends in the NBL as a sounding board, scared of the risk of a deal being leaked or talks breaking down.
Melbourne United’s Chris Goulding was the only player he spoke with, throwing jokes his way. Bogut would ask, seemingly in jest, “how any times a week do you train?”
Goulding took it as most would: “Piss off, man. You’re not coming. You’re not coming.”
After negotiations with the Kings, which involves a small stake in the team, Bogut signed a two-year deal and confirmed on Tuesday that he’s retiring from the NBA, after spending 13 seasons in the world’s top league.
The catalyst for the move, he says, wasn’t just choosing to spend time with his family in Australia, but committing to it.
“I’ve been through a lot but so has my wife,” Bogut told foxsports.com.au.
LISTEN: What Bogut coup means for NBL / Kings – The Splash podcast
“I saw how hard it was, essentially living out of a suitcase the last year or two, with Dallas and going to Cleveland.
“I don’t think it’s fair to my son. Kids take a while to adjust. We finally got him sleeping, at Manhattan Beach, finally got his sleep patterns down. Then, we moved. Three months later, and he’s not sleeping well.”
It was Bogut’s decision not to include any NBA or Europeans outs in his contract and that was as much a message to Australia, as it was a pragmatic decision.
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The 33-year-old understands the position he holds in the Australian sports community, and wanted to make it clear that his decision to sign in Sydney wasn’t just for show.
“I think that’s the wrong mindset,” Bogut said of even thinking about NBA out clauses.
“It only hurts the game and the NBL and myself. I wanna come back here and be fully committed.”
“It’s like, I’m staying. I’m committed to you guys. I wanna be in Australia. Like I said, if I’m gonna commit to it, I’m gonna commit to it.
“I’m not gonna come in here for a marketing gig. I think that would se the game back further than not doing anything at all. I don’t think it’s the right message to send.
“Hopefully this starts and sets a precedent for when other guys wanna come back. This is an opportunity for them.”
Bogut spoke of several other Australians in the NBA who have reached out to him, using him as a sounding board for their potential desire to finish their respective careers in the NBL.
SYDNEY V MELBOURNE ON OPENING NIGHT?
It’s no secret that Melbourne United wanted Bogut on their roster.
Bogut would have been the hometown kid, and the Larry Kestelman-owned team would have been the favourite to land the big-man, when his ‘NBL free agency’ began.
The professionalism of the Kings’ offer to him, combined with their willingness to allow him a stake in the team – now, and in the future – was enough to swing Bogut Sydney’s way.
The Kings now have Australia’s most accomplished basketball player, and it’s clear they understand the new asset they have. Bogut, on the other hand, hasn’t yet grasped the significance of a player of his stature joining Australia’s league.
“I probably won’t until this arena is hopefully full on opening night,” Bogut said.
“Hopefully (the NBL) does us a favour and give us United on opening night. That would be huge. I’d probably appreciate it more then.
“Without sounding like I’ve got tickets on myself, I know the value I can bring.
“When was the last time you saw 50 odd people at an NBL press conference? When was the last time you saw a Fox Sports telecast that night; the first 10 minutes on Fox Sports News was leading with NBL news?”
Bogut is hoping for a ‘reciprocal’ relationship, where his and the team’s strengths can complement one another.
“Sydney needs to be seen on a world level as a viable club,” he said. “The last couple of years, but they haven’t done that.”
INJURIES, AND THE ‘CHIP ON MY SHOULDER’
Bogut says he’s healthy.
After a 13-year NBA career, there are natural knocks on the body. But the Australian’s time in the league has been littered with what he calls ‘car accident’ type injuries.
Bogut’s time with the Lakers was relatively injury free – back soreness kept him out of a few games – and, from all accounts, he would have remained an NBA-calibre player, had he chosen to return to that league.
Part of the decision to sign in Sydney, Bogut said, was being able to play at a high level in Australia, and without any injuries going in.
“I’ve played more years than anyone thought I would, with the injury issues I’ve had; battled through all of those,” Bogu said.
“So, it’s like, I wanna try and still play at a high level back in Australia.
“The leg break was a freak thing; that’s all fine. But, I manage my body. I’ve just had freak stuff happen to me. I’m injury prone in the case of ‘car accident’ type injuries.
“If I’m on the court and I tweak my hamstring, or hurt my quad or calf, that’s my conditioning’s fault. I’ve never had those types of injuries. Literally, when I do something, it’s a ‘car accident’ type injury, perfect angle, bone break.
It’s generally the main criticism or concern that’s follow Bogut since his days in Milwaukee. The No. 1 overall draft pick in 2015 has seen seasons cut short due to bone breaks, or other ‘freak’ injuries, but wants to overcome that stigma he’s ‘earned’.
At 33, Bogut still has a lot to give, and a shortened NBL season should be just what his body needs to remain capable of playing at his desired level.
“I‘ve learned to live with it,” Bogut said.
“My body feels good, considering I’ve been told twice that I wouldn’t play again, after certain injuries. I’ve bounced back from all of them.
“I’ll use it as a chip on my shoulder, because I get knocked for it as well. Whereas, hey, I’ve been hurt a lot, but I’ve bounced back and played at a high level from every one of those f***in’ things. It’s something I pride myself on.”
S*** TALK? ‘I’M HAPPY TO PROVIDE IT
The 2018 NBL grand final was one that saw some of the league’s best local and import talent go at each other, but that may not have been the most memorable or impact-filled part of it.
Bogut was back in Australia for the five-game series that was as heated as it was fiery.
Brawls, scuffles, trash-talk, you name it. The grand final had everything, and that sort of electricity was appealing for Bogut, who’s known to speak his mind.
Playing at the AIS, and in multiple national teams, Bogut has relationships with a lot of the
Australians in the NBA, but is committed to taking on a, sort of, ‘white line fever’.
“Before the game, after the game, I’m happy to shake their hands,” Bogut said.
“Damian Martin was texting me the other night. I said, ‘When you come in the paint, I’m cracking ya’.
“He’s a good mate of mine. I know if I get a rebound, he’s coming to steal that thing, or give me a little bow, or whatever it is.”
The officiating is something Bogut will need to get used to, and his new head coach, Andrew Gaze, conceded as much, but don’t expect the new King to hold back.
In the NBA, Bogut was known as a defensive anchor, who might throw an illegal screen here or there. He’s the 7-footer that opposing players will confront in the paint, and he won’t be afraid to get physical.
“That’s what made that United-Adelaide series so good, in my opinion,” Bogut said.
“We want to compete as much as we can. If it gets personal on the court, sometimes it gets personal, but the relationships I’ve built with most of the guys in the NBL won’t be altered by that.
“If we get into it a little bit, we get into it. There was some animosity, some sh** talk. You need that. You need that.
“I’m happy to provide it.”
We’re happy to have him.
Olgun Uluc covers basketball for Fox Sports Australia. Twitter: @OlgunUluc